One year later: Bernie Sanders, Maxine Waters and others on the 2016 election and what it wrought
One year ago, Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential contest, defying the expectations of just about everyone who’d been paying attention. Los Angeles Times Opinion asked liberals, moderates and conservatives, political observers and politicians to consider What Happened (also the title of Clinton’s latest memoir) and reflect on the nature of the Trump presidency to date.
Bernie Sanders: As president, Trump is doing the exact opposite of what he promised on the campaign trail
When Donald Trump campaigned for president, he told the American people that he would stand up for the working class and take on the political and economic establishment. One year since his election, he has repeatedly reneged on his promises by supporting the interests of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of working families.
During his campaign, candidate Trump said that he was going to “drain the swamp.” Now that he is president, Trump has brought more billionaires into his administration than any president.
While campaigning, Trump told the American people he was going to provide health “insurance for everybody.” As president, he supported a disastrous bill that would have thrown millions off of health insurance, substantially raised premiums for older workers and defunded Planned Parenthood.
As a candidate, Trump said he understood the pain of working families. His budget would slash funding for affordable housing, college financial aid and Head Start.
And while Trump wants to make devastating cuts to programs that working families desperately need, he is working overtime to provide a massive tax break to billionaires like himself.
During the campaign, Trump promised to invest $1 trillion in our nation’s infrastructure to create millions of jobs. Instead, Trump’s budget would cut funding to repair our roads, bridges, railways and water facilities.
As a candidate, Trump promised he would not cut Medicare or Medicaid. Now he supports a budget that calls for $473 billion in cuts to Medicare and more than $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid.
Now that he is president, Trump has brought more billionaires into his administration than any president.
On the campaign trail, Trump said he would stop the pharmaceutical industry from “getting away with murder.” Trump’s pick to head the Food and Drug Administration received millions of dollars from pharmaceutical corporations and is strongly opposed to lowering drug prices.
During the election, Trump promised to “stop Wall Street from getting away with murder.” As president, Trump signed an executive order to deregulate the same financial institutions whose illegal behavior caused millions of Americans to lose their homes, jobs and life savings.
In other words, Trump as a candidate promised the American people one thing, as president he is doing the exact opposite.
But simply stopping Trump’s agenda is not enough. We can join every other major country and guarantee healthcare to all as a right. We can demand that the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations start paying their fair share of taxes. We can create millions of decent paying jobs by rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. We can reform our broken criminal justice system and pass comprehensive immigration reform. We can raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and make public colleges and universities tuition-free.
Together we need to build a government and an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1%.
Bernie Sanders is Vermont’s junior U.S. senator. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
What’s Trump’s agenda? Making sure his reality show presidency stays on top of the ratings
The most remarkable thing about the Trump presidency is how little has changed since the campaign. That’s not normal. Usually the heat of the election subsides, former opponents shake hands and move on. The conversation shifts to Capitol Hill fights and maybe a little White House intrigue. Now all that seems like a minor subplot to the “Trump Show,” which began a lifetime ago when he came down that escalator in Trump Tower.
I am quite serious when I refer to the “Trump Show.” Over the last decade or so, television has entered a new Golden Age as series such as “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” pursue a novelistic narrative arc over many seasons. Trump owes his success more to the rise of another, lower-quality genre: The reality show. The scale of his celebrity can be attributed in no small part to his role on “The Apprentice,” and to this day Trump follows the laws of show biz rather than governance. He broke the blood-brain barrier between entertainment and politics, and it may never be repaired.
Activists of a certain bent believed — and continue to argue — that Trump won the presidency on the strength of his ideological agenda: “Build the wall!” and so forth. While it is true that some of those promises helped deliver him to victory, skeptics understood that Trump had a thumbless grasp of public policy. But what few people appreciated, Never Trumpers and Always Trumpers alike, was that candidate Trump’s policy dis-fluency on the campaign trail would endure after the election.
People must acknowledge his greatness. That is the real Trump agenda as far as Donald Trump is concerned.
Whether in his executive suite at Trump Tower or in the Oval Office, the man’s lodestar remains the same: His staggering self-regard and self-absorption. Like the actor who always wants more screen time, more closeups and more flattery, the differences between “Apprentice” Trump, Candidate Trump and President Trump all have to do with how people and institutions respond to him. He holds constant.
No wonder, then, that the defining attributes of his campaign remain the defining attributes of his presidency. He must command the news cycle. People must acknowledge his greatness. That is the real Trump agenda as far as Donald Trump is concerned. That is why he is most comfortable talking about football players and Confederate monuments: It makes him the center of attention. Talking about tax or healthcare policy, by contrast, reveals the thinness of his knowledge. Talking about himself is the dead center of his comfort zone. Thus he reserves his greatest wrath not for senators who vote against him on policy grounds, but for senators who may vote with his policies but also have the temerity to criticize his “leadership” style.
In short, he remains in campaign mode, because he has no other mode. Waiting for the presidential pivot is like waiting for Godot. And that’s what distinguishes the “Trump Show” from the Golden Age of television or even from most reality shows. There may be a narrative arc, but there is no character arc. He can’t change.
The Democratic Party is a disaster. We have to start over
You know the “Blue Screen of Death”? The way your PC screen turns blue when the Windows operating system goes kaput? During the Clinton administration, the cause of a BSoD was liable to be hardware-related — owing, say, to a failed motherboard — so the bluetastrophe was lethal. Irreparable.
The disaster that befell the Democratic Party a year ago is exactly this kind of fatal blow, a political BSoD.
We Democrats believed that things were moving, slowly, in the right direction; that our Republican friends and relatives would see sense, somehow, eventually — no way were they really that racist, or that hypocritical. We believed our Democratic leaders would play fair, and prove worthy of our trust; that their loyalty to rich donors would diminish, that progressives would gain power within the party.
But we were blind to the truth, and blindsided by the catastrophic ineptitude of our leadership. Against all sense, at a time of dangerous polarization and unrest, Democrats were pressured to back a candidate of legendary unpopularity. The party’s chair was ousted at a crucial moment because she abused her power on behalf of that candidate.
All that was very depressing, but the breakdown that caused the Democrats’ Fatal Exception really began many years earlier.
Thirteen summers ago, Barack Obama gave the speech at the Democratic National Convention that would seal his fate, and the nation’s. He told us not what was true or real, but instead, a tissue of beautiful lies that so many of us wanted to hear.
There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.
We mustn’t forget that Obama’s stirring speech concluded with the optimistic prediction that John Kerry would win the 2004 election. Spoiler: He didn’t.
Hope! Hope all you want, hope until you are blue in the face; hoping didn’t make it so. In real life there was and is a liberal America and a conservative America. To pretend otherwise was, and is, a mistake.
We have to stop running candidates like Hillary Clinton, who we are told, against all evidence, will appeal to red America. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that it’s a dog fight out there and the only way to win is to build up from our populist liberal base.
Troublingly, the Democratic National Committee, led still by the same corporatists who supported Clinton, and who made sure that leftist Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) was denied the top spot, is as clueless as ever. In October, DNC Chair Tom Perez purged popular leftists from the ranks of party leaders.
The Democratic establishment caused the Blue Screen of Death. We need a new computer with a freshly installed operating system, and pronto. There is no reboot or Safe Mode available. The only option is to throw out the broken machine.
Maria Bustillos is a Los Angeles journalist and critic.
Whatever doesn’t kill Trump only makes him stronger
Donald Trump presides as he campaigned. He is proving a Nietzschean figure in the sense that “what does not kill him makes him stronger.”
Each time the media, Republican enemies and the Democratic opposition seem to have Trump on the ropes, the president emerges far less wounded than his critics. The list of felled detractors includes: the National Football League, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Kathy Griffin and John Podesta.
Former FBI Director and Trump critic James B. Comey has imploded his career. In “Alice in Wonderland” fashion, the president’s sloppy tweet about having his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower “by Obama” eventually may prove true in the sense that Obama administration officials swept up Trump and others on the pretext of investigating purported collusion.
Hillary Clinton, who a year later insists that Russian collusion helped lose her the election, is now, in Greek tragic fashion, vulnerable to similar charges. (See the “Uranium One” scandal.)
In late 2016, news celebrities informed the American people that the so-called Steele/Fusion GPS dossier was fatal to Trump. In fact, its unproven smears are beginning to boomerang on those who in highly partisan fashion once insisted that they were accurate.
Each time the media, Republican enemies and the Democratic opposition seem to have Trump on the ropes, the president emerges far less wounded than his critics.
Trump has also found himself in crude feuds with those in his own party, specifically Sens. Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and John McCain.
The first two have now decided not to seek reelection, ostensibly for principled reasons. But in truth, both would have almost no chance of winning their primaries given their harsh opposition to Trump and his legislative proposals.
Why does Trump, who suffers poor approval ratings, seem to always land on his feet while his critics do not?
Three reasons come to mind.
1) Trump is at home in bare-knuckle brawling; his opponents are often not. When they try to slog it out, they seem sadly out of character, while Trump appears at ease.
2) The hysterical hatred of Trump blinds his critics to empiricism and disinterested inquiry, which might have otherwise warned them there was little hard evidence of — for example — Russian collusion and other smears in which they have trafficked.
3) Trump has some solid achievements. For example: conservative judicial appointments, an improving economy, a top-notch national security team, deregulation, radical decreases in illegal immigration, the routing of Islamic State, a robust stock market, increased consumer and business confidence, low inflation and unemployment, booming energy production. These “wins” compensate for his personal unpopularity.
The president’s critics may score points, and he’s not personally popular, but most of Trump’s agenda polls over 50% with voters. So far, denigrating Trump the messenger has been offset by Trump’s far more popular message.
Trump’s eventual fate lies not in his tweets and tiffs, but in the economy and crises abroad. If he achieves economic growth and avoids optional wars, his party will do well in the 2018 midterm election and he will have a good shot at reelection. If not, he won’t.
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is author of the “Second World Wars.”
Presidents used to speak for all Americans. Trump speaks for his racist, resentful white base
Of all the blows dealt to our political culture by Donald Trump, the most damaging has been his corruption of what it means to be president. I’m talking about representation.
It used to be that a president, whatever his party or ideology, understood that he represented all Americans, and it was assumed he spoke for us all in his public remarks. When Trump speaks, or tweets, we know he’s addressing his core supporters — white, resentful and disproportionately powerful: the base.
For the moment, and possibly the future, these voters — and not the forward-looking, neo-rainbow coalition that first elected President Obama — define the American electorate. Trump can brazenly play to a fraction of the population, in the crudest language possible, with no fallout. Despite his historic wins, Obama had to appeal to as many constituencies as possible, and he was still vilified by the white right as the other, an outsider.
Trump’s base is being legitimized, normalized. In saner times, “base” was just a term for those who embraced a party’s bread-and-butter values and ambitions, a supply of reliable votes. Increasingly, however, Trump’s devotees are driving — and running over — the Republican Party. They cultivate the very worst American impulses, from xenophobia to know-nothingism to disdain for social necessities such as public education and clean water. Nothing in the best of the democratic imagination — call it our better angels — is sacred to this base. And its signature quality is racism.
A year in, and still the media, on both right and left, remain reluctant to judge these voters for what they are.
A year in, and still the media, on both right and left, remain reluctant to judge these voters for what they are. Though plenty has been said and written about Trump’s victory, about all that went wrong for Hillary Clinton, very few mainstream pundits have truly called these voters to account. Instead of seeing the base as a white movement that cuts across economic lines, the media individualizes and sympathizes with poor heartland folks who’ve been “left behind.”
Why? Because white America, including its journalists and commentators, is loath to see itself as racist, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Racism may make the list of contributing factors for this or that analysis, but it only tops the list when there is no other choice — think white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Va.
This ingrained restraint is not noble, it’s harmful. The irony is that even this worst of all possible bases isn’t actually represented by Trump. He flaunts their support; he exploits them and he has injected their primal fears into our political consciousness. But he is pathologically self-centered. A year ago this week, we elected a president who represents nobody but himself, a party of one.
Erin Aubry Kaplan is a contributing writer to Opinion.
The GOP establishment brought Trump on themselves
President Trump has publicly and privately attacked Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), belittled Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He has blamed his co-partisans for their failure to pass any replacement plan for Obamacare and has warned that he will go after congressional Republicans if they fail to pass tax reform by the end of the year. Trump’s former advisor and, from all appearances, current right-hand man, Stephen K. Bannon, has made it clear that all Republican incumbent senators, along with the party’s establishment leaders, are in his crosshairs, and he has actively been recruiting radical candidates to run against them in 2018. Sources as disparate as CNN, National Review, the Hill and the Week have recently referred to “the Republican Civil War.”
One year after the election that brought Trump to power, that’s where we are.
Trump’s narcissistic and sociopathic behavior is, of course, responsible for much of this chaos. But Republican establishment leaders are not innocent victims here. The disarray in the GOP — which should not be separated from its radical anti-government and anti-science agenda, its embrace of policies that divide by race and ethnicity, its plutocratic tilt and its willingness to explode norms of governance at all levels — was set in motion by Republican leaders going back at least to Newt Gingrich in the late 1970s.
JFK’s famous phrase applies: ‘Those who ride on the back of a tiger often end up inside.’
If Trump’s presidential campaign got little initial support from elected Republicans or party leaders, they created the conditions that enabled him to emerge, and then to get elected. Playing on the fears and resentments of tea party voters, and opposing everything President Obama proposed without offering ideas of their own, had given the GOP establishment big victories in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections. But they have not managed to control their angry base. As I note in my new book with E.J. Dionne and Tom Mann, JFK’s famous phrase applies to them: “Those who ride on the back of a tiger often end up inside.”
Leaders such as McConnell and Ryan have gained some things from Trump’s election, including a radical right Supreme Court justice and executive actions to support big business, billionaires and fossil fuels. But the price is fearsome: a Republican Party at war with itself, defined by a reckless president and an empty set of policies; a swamp monster instead of a swamp drained; a coalition no longer suitable for governing or problem-solving. And there is little on the horizon to suggest that lessons have been learned, or that they’re on a course to correction.
And that is tragic — not just for the once proud GOP but for a country and constitutional democracy that needs two functional parties to survive.
Norman Ornstein is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author, with E.J. Dionne and Thomas Mann, of “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported.”
Blame Trump on the 2008 Wall Street meltdown
We owe Donald Trump’s election to the great financial meltdown of 2008. In American capitalism, generational cycles of forgetting and greed conspire to foster credit bubbles. When the bubbles burst, millions are ruined, but the system and its perverse incentives survive. The wildly improbable Trump presidency suggests that wobbles in this cycle are becoming more extreme and endangering American democracy.
A decade after the start of the recession, the economy remains so fragile that the Federal Reserve is hesitant to raise interest rates from their low emergency levels. People simply don’t have much money to spend.
Automation, globalization and financial engineering have left the median American household little better off than it was 50 years ago, while GDP has nearly quadrupled. Since 2008, many who lost jobs have gone back to work, but at lower-paying jobs with fewer benefits. Millions more have given up.
Against this harsh reality, the average family turns on the evening news and hears that the economy is at full employment, banks are paying out fat bonuses and 40% of the nation’s wealth now rests with the top 1%. No wonder voters are angry.
Ordinary people have concluded that both political parties serve a shadowy nexus of financial and corporate interests whose power is undeniable.
Ordinary people have concluded that both political parties serve a shadowy nexus of financial and corporate interests whose power is undeniable. Democrat Bill Clinton’s 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which prevented banks from taking risks with depositor money, opened the door to vast increases in more speculative investments such as dubious securities based on subprime mortgages. For those who worried about the consequences, the revolting mantra was: “You won’t be here; I won’t be here.”
Last November, voters decided Hillary Clinton wouldn’t change the system, so they bet on a snake oil salesman who lied that he could. Instead, the administration has deregulated madly, let risk creep back into the system and handed the keys of the machine to Wall Street, the wealthy and himself.
Trump’s next push is lowering corporate tax rates. Over 10 years, each percentage point of corporate tax reductions costs the Treasury an estimated $100 billion in receipts. The only way to make it up is to raise taxes on individuals, or to cut government spending, the source of benefits for the poor and middle class.
We can guess how those passed-by workers will react when another crisis hits and they realize Trump is a false prophet. Some will go down the rabbit hole of far-right conspiracy theories; others will try to bring down capitalism from the left. In the past, the center has held, but can we be sure it will next time around?
Years ago, diamond magnate Harry Oppenheimer explained his progressive labor policies by saying, “If they don’t eat, we can’t sleep.” The president — and the elites of today — would do well to heed his warning.
Eugene Linden, author of “The Future in Plain Sight,” serves as strategist for a hedge fund.
Despite the chaos, Trump has managed to push the most conservative agenda in a generation
A year into the Trump era, President Trump is living up to his advance billing as a “black swan” event for American politics — disrupting everything he touches. He has opened divisions and brought chaos to both parties, and the turmoil is not going to abate with the midterm election next year, no matter what the result. The GOP may never be the same, while a lurch further to the populist left by Democrats might be a formula for additional electoral disaster. The culture wars have gone thermonuclear, with institutions such as the NFL suddenly embroiled in heightened political controversy.
Trump’s critics on both left and right may claim vindication from the latest public opinion polls showing Trump’s personal approval rating at 38% or less, the lowest ever for a first-year president. This is an abysmal rating at a time of accelerating economic growth, near-full employment, rising consumer and business confidence, and no major foreign crisis or war under way.
But given the intra-party divisions, lack of legislative progress in Congress, and the general tumult around the White House, perhaps it is more remarkable that Trump’s approval rating is as high as it is. This reflects the solidity of his base, which remains as enthusiastic for Trump today as it was during the campaign.
In assessing Trump’s accomplishments, let’s not get too distracted by his unconventional conduct.
In assessing Trump’s prospects, let’s keep in mind that Trump’s personal approval rating on election day was nearly as negative. Last year, Americans voted for someone they didn’t much like, reflecting the even greater dislike of Hillary Clinton and the desire for a change of direction in Washington. Change is what we got.
In assessing Trump’s accomplishments, let’s not get too distracted by his unconventional conduct. This hitherto ideologically unmoored man has set in motion an administration arguably more conservative than Ronald Reagan’s. While the Congress controlled by his adopted party remains gridlocked, Trump is rolling back regulations and a number of the Obama administration’s most controversial achievements, including the internal structure of Obamacare and the Clean Power Plan. His foreign policy resets look increasingly sure-footed. His judicial nominees are uniformly conservative. It is inconceivable that any of the other leading Republican candidates from the 2016 cycle would have governed as boldly as Trump has.
Trump’s rhetorical and behavioral recklessness — his government-by-tweet — still make it hard to discern whether there is a method to his madness, or whether he is just going with the populist flow he helped unleash. He has yet to be tested with a serious crisis, where showmanship and bluster count for nothing. Aristotle wrote that “rule shows the man,” but what we’re seeing so far is still confusing.
Steven F. Hayward is senior resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.
Trump’s base wants to hold on to the past at all costs
President Trump may have lost the popular vote last November, but his campaign was clearly onto something powerful. The Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently commissioned a national survey to find out what it was.
We surveyed a representative sample of 2,000 Americans across the country and found that Trump voters have different views not only from Hillary Clinton supporters, but also from those who were sufficiently alienated to vote for a third-party candidate or to not vote at all.
Trump voters embraced the “Make America Great Again” message that he hammered home during the campaign. When Trump voters hear “Make America Great Again,” they imagine a brand of populism that values average people over elites, tamps down on political correctness, and rolls back social norms to those of an earlier time.
Without using the words “political correctness,” we asked respondents whether they believe that “the way people talk needs to change with the times to be more sensitive to people from different backgrounds” or if “this has already gone too far and many people are just too easily offended.” More than two-thirds of Clinton voters said our language needs to evolve. Most nonvoters also favored more inclusive language. By contrast, 85% of Trump voters said that we have gone too far to protect the offended.
85% of Trump voters said that we have gone too far to protect the offended.
We also asked respondents whether “change in a society is a good thing or a bad thing.” As we might expect in a country defined by immigration, more than three-quarters of Americans said that social change is inherently good. This view was embraced by nonvoters, third-party voters and especially Clinton supporters. Again, Trump voters stood apart: 39% said change is a bad thing.
When we asked respondents if “many groups in society are getting special treatment while the average American is being ignored,” only a quarter of Clinton voters and a third of nonvoters strongly agreed with the statement. Three-quarters of Trump voters did.
Trump drew people who want to hold onto the status quo. This trait showed up even in the seemingly nonpolitical question we asked — whether respondents “enjoy trying food, movies and other things that are new and different.” About 42% of Clinton voters and 36% of nonvoters “strongly agreed” that they were game for new experiences, but only 25% of Trump voters said the same.
The distinctiveness of Trump voters is both an asset and challenge for the president. His message resonates with them in a way that fosters loyalty. But we did not find broad support for his “Make America Great Again” vision, which puts a hard limit on how much Trump will be able to expand his base.
Barry Burden is a professor of political science and director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Maxine Waters: It looks more and more like the Trump presidency will end in impeachment
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump made it crystal clear that he did not possess the temperament, acumen or values required to effectively lead our democracy.
After his election, many believed he would “pivot.” But we’ve seen over the last few months that Trump will never be presidential. He is dividing the people of this country and he has no respect for government or the Constitution.
It’s not only Trump’s flawed character that concerns me, but his potential to implement policies that could harm so many in this country.
Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey in what appeared to be obstruction of justice, admitting that his decision to do so was based on his dissatisfaction with the Russia investigation. He later pardoned Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, despite a U.S. District Court ruling that he had illegally targeted Latinos.
It is clear from Trump’s behavior and efforts to derail the Russia investigation that he has something to hide.
Trump eroded America’s leadership in the fight against climate change by withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. He isolated our NATO allies and embarrassed our country during the G20 Summit. He continues to risk our national security by provoking North Korea and delaying enforcement of new sanctions on Russia. Trump has also ignored the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, and he refuses to be critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The president has failed to deliver on many of his major campaign promises. Trump said he would create jobs by investing $1 trillion in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, but his budget proposal would reduce overall infrastructure funding over time. He promised that he would protect Medicaid and Social Security, but his budget proposal slashed $1 trillion from Medicaid and cut Social Security Disability Insurance by $64 billion. He vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but after congressional Republicans failed to pass legislation, he decided to sabotage the ACA by refusing to fund cost-sharing reductions.
Trump also instituted an ill-conceived travel ban on visitors from six majority-Muslim countries, and ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that affects 800,000 young people — more than a quarter of whom live in California.
As the clock runs out on his first year in office, Trump is preparing to give fellow millionaires and billionaires a hefty tax break that adds trillions of dollars to the national debt, raises taxes from 10% to 12% for Americans in the lowest tax bracket and penalizes blue states such as California by eliminating deductions for state and local income taxes.
Finally, every day we learn more and more about the extent of coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin to undermine our democracy. It is clear from Trump’s behavior and efforts to derail the Russia investigation that he has something to hide. I believe that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will reveal the facts, and in the final analysis, Congress will have no choice but to impeach this president.
Maxine Waters is the U.S. representative for California’s 43rd District.